The Hembrillo Battlefield
Museum Logo
WHITE SANDS MISSILE
RANGE MUSEUM

Privacy and
Security Notice

MUSEUM HOME

GENERAL
INFORMATION

MISSILE PARK

OTHER MISSILES

INSIDE EXHIBITS

HALL OF FAME

ARCHIVES

GUEST STORIES

WHITE SANDS
COMMANDERS

RANGE HISTORY

GIFT SHOP

WHAT? WHO?

OLD-TIMERS
BULLETIN
BOARD


MISSILE  RANGE
HISTORICAL
FOUNDATION

WHITE  SANDS
PIONEER GROUP


WHITE SANDS
MISSILE RANGE
Home Page

US ARMY
CENTER OF
MILITARY HISTORY

OTHER LINKS


E-Mail: Museum Director
E-Mail: Webmaster

 

The Hembrillo Battlefield
Located on White Sands Missile Range

Note: Photographs linked below are courtesy of Arizona Historical Society, West Point Military Academy, National Archives and Nita Stewart Haley Memorial Library.

The Victorio War of 1879 and 1880 occurred because of the continuing collision of culures in the American Southwest and had its origins in the Grant administration's "Peace Policy" and the Indian Bureau's policy of concentration. The Warm Springs Apache were repeatedly denied their promised reservation at Ojo Caliente, New Mexico Territory. Their leader, Victorio, chose to fight rather than submit. The U.S. Army's job was to force submission. Victorio eluded the military for five months before bringing his people to Hembrillo Basin in the early months of 1880.

The Hembrillo Basin became the scene of the largest Apache-Cavalry battle of the Victorio War. On the evening of April 6,1880, two companies of " Buffalo Soldiers," Afro-American troopers of the 9th Cavalry, approached Victorio's camp and were ambushed by approximately 150 Apache warriors (Map #1). Taking advantage of the limited cover on the ridge below where you now stand (Map #2), the troopers held off the Apache throughout the long dark night. By morning, Captain Henry Carroll and seven troopers were wounded, two mortally, and 25 horses and pack mules were down.

As the sun rose on April 7th, Apaches had moved within close range of the troopers. Just as the Apache prepared to attack, reinforcements arrived from the north and the west (Map #2). The Apache abandoned their positions and retreated to the long ridge to the south (Victorio Ridge) from which they fought a rear-guard action as their women and children escape by climbing out of the basin (led by Nana) to the south (Map #3),

The reinforcing troops included two additional companies of "Buffalo Soldiers," three companies of Apache Scouts and one company of 6th Cavalry from Arizona. Aligning themselves along this ridge ((Map #3), the troops launched a frontal assault on Victorio Ridge while 2nd Lts. Charles Gatewood and Stephen Mills led the Apache Scouts in a flank attack (Map #4) on the Apache camp located behind Victorio Ridge and west of Victorio Peak.

The strategy was successful as the Apache on Victorio Ridge retreated upon hearing the shots from the direction of the Apache camp. Fighting a rear-guard action from each of the ridge tops that rise out of the Hembrillo Basin (Map #4), the Apache disengaged, leaving three dead on the field.

The exhausted troops fell back to the spring-fed arroyos, digging holes in the streambed for water. Camping in the Hembrillo Basin overnight, the troopers marched east towards the White Sands on the evening of April 8th. Victorio and the Warm Springs Apache people fled west to the Black Range while their Mescalero allies returned to Mescalero.

The battle at Hembrillo forced Victorio out of his stronghold and into a running fight that culminated in his eventual death and defeat by Mexican troops. No other engagement during the Victorio War brought as many troops into direct conflict with Victorio. The Hembrillo combatants included representatives from the four American cultures in collision-Anglo Euro-American, African-American, Hispanic and Apache. The Hembrillo Battlefield is an excellent and well-preserved example of a battleground from the tragic Victorio War, the last major stand of the Warm Springs Apache in their homeland.

Second Lt. Walter Finley, Co G 9th Cavalry, echoed the sentiments of Col. Edward Hatch and many of the officers involved when he wrote in 1879:

"It is the old story, unjust treatment of the Indians by the Govt., treaties broken, promises violated and the Indians moved from one reservation to another against their will, until finally they break out and go on the war path and the Army is called in to kill them. It is hard to fight against and shoot down men when you know they are in the right and are really doing what our fathers did in the Revolution, fighting for their country."